In part one I looked at Apostolic Christianity as the grand example of a revival. I showed then the importance of theology for the early church. In this second part I want to demonstrate the continuing relationship of theology and revival throughout Church history. Obviously in some ways this article will be superficial but my main point is that Revival and Theology walk hand in hand.
The Post Apostolic Church; As the Church grew and people entered it all sorts of baggage from either their heathen past or their Jewish background affected how they interpreted the faith. Into this lively discussion we find leaders like Irenaeus bringing clarity and helping to develop the understanding of both Jesus divine and human natures ( see his “Against Heresies).Other early Church Father such as Tertullian and Justin Martyr. All of the early Theological debates took place in the context of a lively growing Church. The Contributions of great theologian such as Athanasius, Augustine and the Cappadocian all demonstrate the same point. These Church Fathers and others made a vital contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity and to Christology.(for an excellent introduction to the Church Fathers see”Learning Theology With the Church Fathers” by Christopher A Hall).
The Reformation: I know that we could look at examples from the medieval Church, but there is not room in this posting. The Reformation is often seen as the period of doctrinal clarification and seen as an intellectual movement. But this is to miss the point as the Reformation was a time when because Luther’s discovery of a gracious God who justifies the guilty through faith in the finished work of Christ, caused thousand to press into the kingdom of God.
Luther proclaimed the message of salvation by grace not as a doctrinal system but as the way to eternal life, to read his Commentary on Galatians or his Larger Catechism demonstrates this clearly.
As the Reformation spread other leaders took up the challenge to take up the challenge to return to the Theology of the Bible among the greatest was John Calvin.
John Calvin has suffered a bad press down the ages, but one has only to read his letters to see this was a man with a pastoral heart. The same can be said of his “Institutes of The Christian Religion” The intention of his writing this work was to equip believers in their discipleship. He did not think of this as an academic volume of Systematic Theology, but as a volume to be used in conjunction with his commentaries on Holy Scripture. Calvin did help other Pastors like John Knox to develop his theology, but this was all aimed at the proclamation of the Gospel The reformation period saw many people come to saving faith and must also be therefore classified as a revival.
The Eighteenth Century Revival: When we think of the eighteenth century revival we tend to think of thousands coming into the kingdom and the manifestations that accompanied this but this is only part of the story. All of the Revival Leaders wanted to see people become disciples, and they realised that for this believers needed to be rooted in Biblical doctrine. Wesley developed his class meetings for believers and also published A Christian Library for believers to be able to read abridged and edited versions of Christian Classics. Wesley was well equipped theologically and this can be sen in his writings on Christian Perfection and his notes on the New Testament. One does not have to agree with Wesley to be able to appreciate his use of theology to disciple people. His colleague John Fletcher was also an able theologian but again he used theology to establish believers in their faith. He also used this to defend the distinctive doctrines of the Methodist Movement but again he was concerned with the spiritual development of believers, his work is has distinct pastoral flavour to it.
Jonathan Edwards is remembered for his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, but this great pastor also preached on the love of God and for our love for one another, his sermons “charity and its Fruits” show both the pastoral heart and the theological expertise of Jonathan Edwards. Als his work “The Religious Affections” is an amazing combination of pastoral discernment and theological knowledge enabling helping to discern the hand of God in revival and seeing also how the flesh could be manifested in times of renewal. Edwards was able to write at depth as History of Redemption demonstrates or his discussions of free will and divine sovereignty but again his purpose is not to be academic but rather to show that the doctrine was profitable for the believer and for the pastor for their ongoing discipleship.
When we look at these examples it is interesting to note that Wesley and Fletcher were Arminian in their Theology, whereas Edwards was Reformed in his theology, but despite the differences they were united in emphasising the need for good doctrinal for the health of the church.
The Nineteenth Century Revivals: There were various Revival Movements in the Nineteenth Century and it can be said of all of them that theology was important to them. Even very experiential emphases like that of Pheobe Palmer’s take on holiness teaching are rooted in biblical teaching. Palmer saw herself as one who was teaching Wesleyan theology, a careful reading of her works will establish this.
Charles Finney is often used as an example of a revivalist who is technique orientatedbut this is a shallow interpretation of the mature Finney. In any case he tried to develop his thinking from Scripture and expound them. but he also published his Systematic Theology again this is not a book aimed at academics, but rather a volume designed to equip pastors and believers.
C.H Spurgeon, is a great example of a Revival preacher who brought solid doctrinal teaching to his congregation Sunday after Sunday, but this was the truth on fire. Spurgeon took his stand on the Reformed articulation of doctrine. This can be seen in the fact that he used A.AHodge’s “Outlines of Theology” as his textbook at his Preachers College. He also realised the need for unity in the light of the dangers of Liberal Theology and he was involved in the early developments of The Evangelical Alliance. He was also willing to take a strong stand against liberal theology as his Sermon “A Dirge for the Downgrade” shows. Spurgeon was one who would stand for truth because he was concerned for the health of the church. His program of Church planting also shows his concern for doctrinal clarity, for example the Trust Deed of Shoreham Baptist Church has a clear doctrinal statement ( I use this as an example because I am an elder of this Church.). The Churches that Spurgeon planted were all Particular (Reformed) Baptist Churches.
The Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements: although the early Pentecostal movement was largely experiential, a Wesleyan Theology was assumed in the early days, as people from other backgrounds came into the movement there were different emphases brought into the movement.
One early clash was on the doctrine of sanctification. The Finished Work controversy with W.H.Durham leading those who were opposed to the Wesleyan view of sanctification. It is at this point that we begin to see the early leaders develop a greater theological awareness.
The next controversy to beset was known as the “New Issue” it is here we see the development of Oneness Pentecostalism,in response to this a greater awareness of the need to articulate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity arose. In both of these controversies it was pastoral concerns that caused Pentecostal leaders to articulate a theology for the Growing movement (for some helpful insights on this development see “The Everlasting Gospel” by D. William Faupel).
In recent years we have seen the growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology as can be evidenced by such volumes as Renewal Theology by Rodman Williams, Truth Aflame by Larry Hart and Baptized in the Spirit by Frank Macchia.
Conclusion: in these two postings I have tried to show that Revival and theology are partners together in God’s purpose for the Church we need the vitality of Revival rooted in the roots of Biblical Truth. My hope is that as we seek the Lord to Revive his church again that we will see that The Word and The Spirit go together. Let us pray that will God will revive his Church again and at the same time raise up those who can proclaim the Word of God so that the church resets on God’s solid foundation.